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Are Mushrooms in My Garden Bad?

October 12, 2011
Beautiful, Gilled Mushroom Ornaments an Autumn Lawn

Beautiful, Gilled Mushroom Ornaments an Autumn Lawn

All the time — especially in fall and spring — I get asked over and over again if the mushrooms popping up in gardens are harmful. The answer, in general, is that they’re fine.

Actually, the mushroom you see is just the portion of a larger beast that lives throughout the soil all the time. When you see a mushroom form, the fungi is in the process of reproducing itself by spitting out spores that will eventually become new mushrooms nearby.

Now, to be clear, there are times when seeing the fruiting bodies of fungi (aka the mushrooms) is a warning sign that something not so good is going on. For instance, if shelf fungus forms on a tree, its time (or quite likely past time) to bring in an arborist to check on the health of the tree. These fungi begin putting out fruiting bodies when they’ve eaten up much of the tree already. In most cases, fungi goes for organic material already beginning to die or decay, but when it goes for living plants, that plant is likely on its way out.

Brilliant Yellow Vomit Fungi in Summer

Brilliant Yellow “Vomit” Fungi in Summer

And, just because a mushroom isn’t doing damage to your garden doesn’t mean it won’t do damage to you or your pets if you decide to nibble on them. I won’t even begin to try to tell you how to tell an edible mushroom from a toxic one.

Fungi comes in all sorts of forms from wiggly jelly cups to puff balls to cascading beards to varieties that eat and grow over other mushrooms to barfy looking technicolor piles to the traditional forms we all (pretty much) recognize from the grocery store. And, yes, there are many more forms as well. But, knowing which are edible and which are not is a deadly game if you aren’t trained. So, unless you’re absolutely certain you know what you’re picking, don’t even think about eating them. Some will make you sick right away; others can take days to destroy your internal organs – permanently. Even it if looks like a squirrel already nibbled on a ‘shroom cap in the garden, don’t think that means you can eat it!

Puff Ball Fungi Popping Up

Puff Ball Fungi Popping Up

If patches of mushrooms are popping up in your garden beds or your lawn, odds are they’re not doing any damage. If you enjoy seeing them appear, know they’ll probably disappear just as quickly after they spread their spore and go back to growing underground as mycelium where they live all the time. And as they’re growing, they’re helping process toxins, assisting vascular plants in taking up soil water and nutrients, and aiding in the decomposition process that converts decaying material nutrients into forms that your garden plants can use and thrive upon.

Want to learn more about mushrooms and even get to go picking edible varieties with people in the know? Consider joining and taking classes with a local mycological society like Psms.org. Groups like this also often assist communities with identification of mushrooms found in home gardens, and they can provide help should you suspect mushroom poisoning has occurred.

5 Comments

  1. Colleen Miko says:

    Nice photos, Robin. Where’d you snap the blight yellow one?

  2. Colleen, Thanks for dropping by. The bright yellow was on a trail near Mt. Shasta in September. It was truly brilliant!

  3. Jaz Black says:

    Mycelium(the part of the mushroom that grows underground) actually interacts with plants and helps them absorb nutrients.

  4. Rita says:

    Please advise. Little wild (toxic?) mushrooms have been cropping up in the soil of my organic veggie garden. Are they good for the garden? I’ve been pulling them out. Thanks in advance.

  5. Rita, as the article says, mushrooms are part of the fruiting bodies of naturally occurring fungi in the soil. Some can go after desirable, living plants. Others leave well enough alone. By pulling the mushrooms themselves, you’re just getting rid of the part that spreads spores. You aren’t removing the entire body. Knowing which is which can be tough. Try contacting your local extension office or a mycological society for help identifying yours. In the PacNW our go-to society is PSMS: http://www.psms.org/index.php

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